THE AMEN CORNER
by James Baldwin.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 14 August 2013.
7.30pm 17-20, 27-29 July, 1, 9-11, 16-20, 25-27, 29 July, 5-8, 12-14 Aug.
2pm 19, 29 June, 10, 17, 20, 27 July, 7, 14 Aug.
3pm 30 June, 21, 28 July.
Audio-described 19 July 7.30pm, 20 July 2pm (+ Touch Tour 12.30pm).
Captioned 28 July, 8 Aug.
Runs 2hr 30min One min interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 12 June.
Hallelujah for this Amen Corner.
It should perhaps be called ‘Salvation Blues’. James Baldwin’s 1954 play charts the failing belief of Sister Margaret Alexander, pastor of a Harlem Baptist `storefront’ church under the pressure of worldly problems ranging from the return of a recalcitrant husband, a son who turns his back to go into the world as a musician and not least, a congregation who expel the leader who has preached a hard gospel of abstinence and purity but is finally found wanting in her personal life.
Baldwin, son of a Harlem minister, a hugely influential figure and fierce Civil Rights advocate, made his name at 29 with his equally searching account of the church and its followers in his 1953 novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain. The Amen Corner quickly followed but only received its British premiere in 1987 by Carib Theatre at Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre.
The Olivier production, directed by Rufus Norris on Ian MacNeil’s monumental set comprising raised levels and alcoves, is in every way bigger, grander, more populist. Augmented by the London Gospel Choir, Baldwin’s sometimes sprawling play is given a thumping new lease of life.
Gospel-singing was never more evocative, with Baldwin’s flawed protagonist, ministering to her flock with compassionate authoritarianism, accompanied in song as she begins to undergo her own human trial.
Marianne Jean-Baptiste, returning to the British stage after a long American exile, imbues Sister Margaret with unyielding conviction before her fall – a collapse in which Baldwin seeks vigorously to oppose `spiritual’ vision in favour of far more earthly motivations such as poverty and grief, whilst also showing the hypocrisy of those who espouse Christian virtues whilst practising otherwise.
There is a good deal of sly comedy in Baldwin’s portrait. But in the end, his message is a supremely moral one, that love redeems all.
Beside Jean-Baptiste, Sharon D Clarke provides an immense presence playing Margaret’s loyal blood sister, Odessa. Lucian Msamati and Eric Kofi Abrefa are intensely moving as her troubled husband and son whilst Cecilia Noble, Jacqueline Boatswain and Donovan F Blackwood supply a prickly contrast as her increasingly venomous congregational opponents.
Margaret Alexander: Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
Odessa: Sharon D Clarke.
Ida Jackson: Naana Agyei-Ampadu.
Sister Moore: Cecilia Noble.
Sister Boxer: Jacqueline Boatswain.
Brother Boxer: Donovan F Blackwood.
David: Eric Kofi Abrefa.
Luke: Lucian Msamati.
Sister Sally: Cherrelle Skeete.
Sister Douglass: Miquel Brown.
Sister Rice: Katrina Beckford.
Brother Davis: Everal A Walsh.
Brother Washington: Delroy Atkinson.
Ensemble: Lisa Davina Phillip, Sarah Quist, Daniel Ward, Angela Wynter.
London Community Gospel Choir: Angenita Blackwood, Annette Bowen, Geneta Crooke, Monica George, Ennis Langdon, Marcia McEachron, Neresa Maye, Stephanie Oyerine, Lena Palmer, Kelyon Ross, Lawrence Rowe, Jenny la Touche and Becky Thomas with Mike Henry.
Director: Rufus Norris.
Designer: Ian MacNeil.
Lighting: Paul Anderson.
Sound: Simon Baker.
Composer/Music Director: Tim Sutton.
Additional Music: Byron Wallen/Joseph Roberts.
Music Supervisor/Vocal Arranger: The Rev Bazil Meade.
Movement: Coral Messam.
Costume: Joan Wadge.
Company Voice work: Kate Godfrey.
Dialect coach: Jeannette Nelson.
Digital Art: Dan Radley-Bennett.
This production of The Amen Corner opened in the Olivier Theatre London on 11 June 2013.